Job numbers don’t add up

Nduka Okonta stopped by a state unemployment center in Norcross one recent Friday to fill out paperwork. He was there to discontinue his unemployment compensation. It was bittersweet, though, and not because the Nigerian-born man wants to stay on the public dole. (More on that later.)

Okonta is an accountant who holds a master’s degree from Alabama A&M University in Huntsville. He’s worked in the profession in his native country, but since arriving in Atlanta in 2001 he’s enjoyed no such luck. He’s filled out applications to no avail. One local firm told him he needed to be fluent in Korean, like the bulk of its clients.

“I am still looking,” he told me, “but I have to diversify my search. I think I am well educated, and I have always liked numbers. It’s the easiest thing to do.”

For now, the married father of three has survived by any means necessary, by accepting most any full-time gig. Consider him underemployed. This man who loves manipulating numbers has logged time at Waffle House and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

In January, he left the fast-food industry for a job with Lund International, a Lawrenceville-based manufacturer of automobile accessories and plastic moldings. Four months later, the entire section of workers in his department was laid off. That left him to rely on unemployment compensation and the salary of his wife, a bilingual secretary for the Consulate General of Nigeria in Atlanta.

“It felt very bad and laid on my mind that my wife had to take care of all the responsibilities,” he told me. “That makes it very hard.”

Despite repeated attempts to obtain a loan modification, the Duluth family lost its home. “I lost my job in May, Okonta said, “and my house in June.”

Okonta is a man who deals in numbers, so it’s no surprise he’s well versed in the jobless rate among black Americans. These days, it hovers around 16 percent, almost double the national rate. Black men, particularly, suffer.

“I think the bad economy is worldwide, not just the United States,” he told me. “There simply are fewer opportunities, so it’s tougher.”

Okonta refuses to give up. Lund International, the Lawrenceville company, recently called him back to work. He was to start this week. “I must have done a good job while I was there,” he said.

Last month, AJC reporter David Markiewicz wrote that unemployment among metro Atlanta black men was 20 percent. That’s almost double the rate for white men.

I’ll leave you to ponder why; post your comments online. Bear in mind, though: With the current climate, gains made in past decades are being reversed, wiped out.

And that should be unacceptable.